Administration Building

The Pennington County Administration building in downtown Rapid City.

Pennington County has joined a federal lawsuit accusing opioid manufacturers of misrepresenting the addictive nature of the drugs to doctors and patients.

The board of commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to declare opioids a "public nuisance" and take legal action. 

"Certain manufactures and distributors knowing of the serious risks and adverse outcomes related to the use of their products, including their highly addictive nature, nevertheless did purposefully set out to persuade providers, regulators and patients that their products were safe and effective," the resolution says. 

The resolution cited the fact that 91 Americans die of opioid overdoses each day and South Dakota Department of Health data that found at least 114 state residents have been hospitalized for opioid use since 2017, while 90 have overdosed and 35 died. Of those 35 deaths, 23 were from prescribed opioids. 

"It ends with the county having to pay, the family having to pay, it all comes back local," Verne Goodsell of the Goodsell Quinn Law Firm said Thursday.

Goodsell said his firm is representing Pennington County in a Cleveland-based federal lawsuit against entities that include Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson. Since the lawsuit began about two years ago, he said, 51 cities and counties have joined on to contribute to the litigation process and possible settlement. 

The ultimate goal is to win settlement money that the county can use to address the impact of opioid addiction, Goodsell said. He said the cost of the firm's services won't be determined until the lawsuit is complete and he expects payment will be covered by an eventual settlement. 

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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